4. Place and Posture in Prayer

Praise and Prayer

 “HIGH PLACES,” or fane heights, were sacred as sites for prayer and worship in Israel up to the time of Solomon. These had been so used by the alien nations before them. Balak took Balaam to a fane height devoted to Baal, in order to get him to curse Israel (Num. 22:41). When God's people entered the land they were to destroy all evidence of idolatry, including the fane heights where the Canaanites worshiped (Num.33:52). If Israel should ever use fane heights to worship other gods beside Jehovah He threatened to destroy them (Luke 26:30). During the period of the Judges the fane heights were used as a place for sacrifice. Saul found Samuel when he was about to offer sacrifice at a fane height. Soon thereafter he was anointed Israel's king by the prophet (1 Sam.9: 12-10:13).

Even Solomon, the builder of the temple, sacrificed a thousand ascent offerings upon the altar in a great fane height in Gideon (1 Kings 3:3). In his old age, he even went so far as to build a fane height for Chemosh, the abhorrent god of Moab, on the hill before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the detestable god of the sons of Ammon, and likewise for other gods of his foreign wives (1 Kings 11:7,8), even after the temple had been erected. From that time on it was a sign of apostasy from Jehovah to worship in the fane heights. Acceptable prayer, praise, and sacrifice could be offered only in the place in which Jehovah had put His name, that is, the house of God in Jerusalem. Fane heights became a token of departure from Jehovah. If these were not broken down there was trouble. If they were restored it was still worse. Jehovah was exceedingly jealous of other places than the house in which He homed in Israel.

In order to protect his ten-tribed kingdom, Jeroboam would not allow his people to go to Jerusalem, so he made fane heights for them and appointed priests to officiate. This was frequently referred to as the sin of Jeroboam, the means by which he caused Israel to sin. It finally led to the defeat and deportation of the ten tribes, long before Judah was carried to Babylon. What seemed to be political prudence turned out to be the seed of destruction. It is difficult for us to realize how important it was, under that administration, to worship in the right place. Even in the deportation, this is impressed upon us by the action of Daniel, who opened up his window in the direction of Jerusalem when he prayed.

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THE FIRST “JEWS”

The place of prayer made a permanent division in the holy nation. Those in the ten tribes who would not bow down to the gods of Jeroboam, left the land of Israel and came to Judah, in order to worship in Jerusalem. As a result, the allotment of Judah was inhabited by members of all the tribes, not only the descendants of Jacob's royal son. No matter what tribe it was to which they belonged, in respect to worship they were called “Jews.” It was a religious division which superseded the social segregation into tribes and the political one of two kingdoms. This has continued to the present day. The term Jew does not imply that Solomon Levy or David Simon are descended from Judah, for they sprang from Levi and Simeon, but that they are one with Judah in worship of their God Jehovah, at Jerusalem.

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THE TEMPLE DESOLATED

The fact that the temple in Jerusalem was the only place to worship acceptably did not depend on the place, or the buildings, or the silver and gold which was so lavishly used in its construction, but upon the manifest presence of the divine glory, the shekinah, in the holy of holies, upon the propitiatory shelter, between the cherubim. When the depravity of the house of Israel became unbearable, the glory left its place in the holy of holies and took its stand over the sill of the door, and thence moved to the right of the house, thence to the east gate, thence to the mountain east of the city, from which it ascended (Ezek.9,10,11). This magnificent shrine, as well as later temples, remained desolate until Christ came and replaced the shekinah glory with His own. During that interval, the Jews did not all worship there, for many were deported and the house was demolished. The temples built by Ezra and Zerubabel and by Herod, were only an outward shell, from which the divine Presence was absent.

Even at the time of its desolate condition, with the glory departed, the Samaritan woman, who worshiped in the fane height of their mountain, knew that the Jews claimed that Jerusalem is the place where one must worship. Yet our Lord knew how empty these two places were, so he replied “Coming is the hour, and now is, when the true worshipers will be worshiping the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). As a matter of fact, when do we find our Lord worshiping in the temple? He went there, indeed, but not to worship, for the simple reason that He was the shekinah glory Himself, yet was rejected by the very priests who should have led in His worship! He was the true temple in His day, and many a prayer was directed to Him and received its blessed answer.

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PLACES TO WHICH HE WENT TO PRAY

Like every other action of our Lord, the places to which He repaired to pray are in fullest harmony with spiritual truth. As a rule, He retired from the company of mortals and communed with God alone, in a desolate location, or in the wilderness, or on a mountain, as far from man as possible and as near to God as He could get on earth. He advised His disciples to do likewise. He told them, “Now you, whenever you may be praying, enter into your storeroom, and, locking your door, pray to your Father in hiding.” Again, “You shall not be as the hypocrites, for they are fond of standing, in the synagogues and at the corners of the squares to be praying, so that they may appear to men” (Matt.6:5,6). The principal point was to be alone with God, and secluded from human distraction and interference.

At the commencement of His ministry, after the first strenuous day, before the sun had appeared on the scene, He came away into a desolate place, and there He prayed (Mark 1:35). It is easy to understand that He wished to have privacy in prayer. But He could have had that in a storeroom, near at hand. Why did He not follow His own advice to His disciples, and lock Himself in there (Matt.6:6)? Is it not clear that He wished to bring His physical environment into harmony with the spiritual? God's house of prayer was desolate, so He seeks a desolate place. The time also is significant. His evangel heralded the coming of the kingdom, the day of Jehovah. But that day had not yet become apparent. It was still night. It is best to pray when all the physical conditions about us are in accord with the spiritual state in which we find ourselves.

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GETHSEMANE

How appropriate is the name Gethsemane! In Hebrew it speaks of the olive, the source of light, and the pressure needed to produce it, and the trough into which it ran. It is a perfect counterpart of the appalling spiritual pressure under which our Lord implored His God to “Carry aside this cup from Me!” (Luke 22:42). Not only drops of agonizing blood clots fell to the earth from His bitter brow, but, along with it came the oil. The illumination which that soul-sickening scene shed on God's heart is surpassed only by the sorrows of the cross. It has enlightened millions and will continue to shine for all the eons, until everyone of God's intelligent creatures has basked in its beams. What other place would have been more appropriate than the site of an olive trough, where the crushed berries supplied the light which lighted every home throughout the night?

At other times our Lord retreated into the wilderness (Luke 5:16) or into a mountain to pray (Matt.14:23: Mark 6:46: Luke 6: 12; 9:28). A great height is suggestive of a spiritual state above the low level of mankind below, and points forward to the kingdom of the heavens upon the earth. Such prayers often followed some miraculous sign connected with the coming millennium. After feeding the multitude with a few cakes and fishes, and seeing their soulish satisfaction, He went up to commune alone. After restoring a withered right hand in a synagogue, and noting the false reasonings of the scribes and Pharisees, He goes above.

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THE TRANSFORMATION

Contrary to His usual custom, He took along Peter and John and James when He went to pray and to be transformed, for this needed witnesses. Again, to conform to the kingdom, He ascended a mountain, for the prayer and transformation were a preview of the coming kingdom (Luke 9:28). It was, in a sense, the fulfillment of the so-called “Lord's prayer,” which commenced with “Thy kingdom come.” Indeed, this thought was doubtless uppermost in the prayers of those days, for His preaching filled the hearts of His disciples with a longing, for His kingdom. But only His three chosen apostles saw its glory on the mount.

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“PLACES OF PRAYER”

Christendom has failed utterly in regard to the place of praise and prayer. In this administration of grace, God does not dwell in temples made with hands, but His spirit makes its home in the living tabernacles of His sanctified people, or saints. No one who is not the home of God is a saint, for His presence alone can hallow mortal man. It is for this reason that true believers are always in “church,” for we carry it about with us. We are not sanctified by any earthly edifice. We, like our Lord, hallow every building into which we enter, for God goes with us. When we are not in a “church” it is no more sacred than any other building. Yet every shelter which we enter, be it a hovel or a castle, is sanctified by the immanent Deity Who indwells us. I have lived in a tent and in a palace, but the tent was more filled with God's presence than the stately pile of marble, with its magnificent furnishings and costly paintings.

I have visited many of the magnificent piles of masonry dedicated to the worship of the Deity, but in none of them did I perceive the divine presence. The greatest of them all, St. Peter's at Rome, was disfigured with brazen statues of some distinguished saints. I kissed the toe of St. Peter, but he paid no attention to me. If he had been alive he would have been astonished that I would show him so much affection, when I was so partial to Paul. The worst defect of all, it seemed to me, was a row of brass lines set into the floor, showing the size of most of the other competitive cathedrals. These were there, evidently, to prove to all that St. Peter's was the biggest and best, that the others were inferior to Rome, the self-styled catholic (Greek down whole) or universal church. No other sect has such a grand edifice at its headquarters. Such pride is enough to shut God out of this dank and dim imitation of God's dwelling places in the past.

But I also went to St. Paul's, the chief competitor of St. Peter's. Not only was God absent from its dim interior, but not even Paul was there, and I did not even get to kiss his hand. It is good that Paul is no longer alive, for if he was to go to the cathedral which bears his name in London, and he was recognized as the heretic that he is, they might put him out. Big as it is, it is far too small for a saint of his stature. In neither St. Paul's nor in St. Peter's was there a place to rest. You had to stand. And that is quite in keeping with the atmosphere, for Christ is not there to give men rest.

I also visited other, lesser shrines, among them the cathedral at Cologne, with its delicately carved spires. I found nothing there that I cared to carry away, but across the street, I bought some scented water for a friend. That smelled better than anything the cathedral had to offer.

In Venice, St. Mark's was different and interesting on account of its glass mosaics. I am not as much in sympathy with Mark as I am with Paul or even Peter, yet not even he was there, not to speak of the Deity.

The Dom in Berlin is not even a cathedral, I suppose, and is not nearly so imposing and ornate as the others I have mentioned, but, at least I heard a sermon in it, such as it was, and it was pervaded with a profound spirit of reverence which was not due to the building, but to the purpose for which it was used. Of course, had they known what a heretic I am, I might have been made very uncomfortable, to say the least, but my profound respect for Martin Luther, notwithstanding our differences in doctrine, helped me to overcome, to a considerable degree, that innate aversion with which I view all hand-made temples for the Deity. As if He could be housed in these oversized mausoleums, some of them actually filled with dead men's bones!

Let us be candid and confess that the Mohammedan mosques are treated with far more reverence and fear than Christian churches. I would warn my readers never to trespass carelessly on anything held sacred by the sons of Islam. They take their religion seriously, and will not brook the insolence of the infidel who treads their sacred sites without due signs of reverence. I well remember once, in Jerusalem, I had an appointment to visit the Dome of the Rock (commonly called the Mosque of Omar), the area on which Solomon's temple once stood. The day before, as I was near it, I thought it prudent to make sure of the way hither, so that I would know how to find it on the morrow. But, as I strode along thither, I was surprised and appalled by the scowls on the faces of the Arabs as I passed by their shops. I never would do that again. It seems that the area was closed at this time, and foreigners were forbidden to enter. I had no idea of going in, but the Arabs thought I was arrogantly flouting their sacred customs. It might have caused a riot.

When we did go in next day, we had to wear large slippers over our shoes and were in charge of a guide who could speak English. As he was very friendly (probably to please his purse) we were very well treated, and learned much about the place. The mosque was tawdry, and in need of repair, but the colors in the windows were richer than any I had seen elsewhere. The rock itself occupied the center, and, although it was nothing but a bare stone, with an eave in it, on which is supposed to be the site of the great altar where millions of animals shed their blood in order to foreshadow the precious blood of Christ, this spot awoke more reverential awe in my heart than all the cathedrals put together. God was not there, in the midst of a Mohammedan mosque, but there was an authentic memorial of that which spoke of the greatest event in universal history, the blood-shedding of the Christ of God, Who put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

Other and larger mosques I visited made no such impression upon my heart. There was much of interest to see in the great mosque in Cairo, an imitation, I was told, of the church of St. Sophia, in Constantinople. In Damascus, there is a very large building. It was too late to see it when I arrived, so I told my guide that I would not risk it. He laughed, and said that he knew a way which was perfectly safe, only it would cost a few piasters. Sure enough, we were welcomed by the caretaker and shown all the objects of interest. Of course, this duplicity rid it of all reverential awe for me. I had to revise my previous estimate of Mohammedans. Although baqsheesh was the chief object in the life of many of them, they did not even persist in this if you told them in Arabic, God will give to you! Then the worst villain's hand was held. But here, in the very house of their God, they were selling their sanctity for silver.

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THE TEMPLES OF GOD TODAY

God's spirit is the sign of His presence today, not the visible glory of the shekinah. He homes in His hallowed permanently, not, as in Israel, so long as His people were faithful to Him. Of old God's spirit imparted a temporary power by coming on a favored few, now it gives life by homing in all who are hallowed. Here is the true place of prayer and worship today. Hearts hallowed by His spirit need no external house, no ornate furnishings, no aspiring steeples, no soul-satisfying windows or musical instruments, to keep in constant communion with the indwelling, life-giving spirit of God. Anywhere, anyway, without visible “means of grace,” without audible expression, our spirits may always abide prostrate in His presence in perfect affinity with His spirit, and constant communion, to praise and pray according to the promptings of Him Who is our All.

In the Orient, much is made of conforming the body to the spirit in prayer. Most men grovel in the dust, quite literally, before some high and mighty potentate. Even the direction toward which they face is important. Daniel had his windows open toward Jerusalem (Dan.6:10). Today, in a Mohammedan mosque, there is always some indication of the direction of Mecca, and all pray facing toward the sacred city. I well remember a venerable and impressive-looking Moslem on the train from Jaffa to Jerusalem, who performed his prayers before a whole car full of passengers, at the prescribed time, and, as nearly as possible, toward Mecca. This was difficult to do, as the roadway is a series of curves, and he could hardly have been correct most of the time. Old as he was, he knelt and bowed clear to the floor, again and again. I could not help admiring his perfect indifference to the many eyes that watched him in his genuflexions.

We are so accustomed to democratic manners that it does not strike us as the height of arrogance for the Pharisee to stand while presumably in the presence of his God, in the sacred precincts of the temple (Luke 18:11). He came quite close, but the tribute collector did not even dare to lift up so much as his eyes to heaven. Our Lord labeled as hypocrites those who were fond of “praying,” standing in the synagogues and at the corner of the squares, so that they may be appearing to men. The good opinion of the audience was all the reward they got from their prayers! It is quite helpful to note the posture of anyone, when this is specially mentioned in the Scriptures. It is usually an expression of this spiritual attitude as well. It is a mark of high dignity when anyone may stand in the presence of God (Rev.8: 2). Those who are worthy will be rewarded by being stationed in front of the Son of Mankind (Luke 21:36).

Solomon, richly endowed with the gift of wisdom, before he begins his memorable prayer at the dedication of the temple he had built for the worship of Jehovah in Jerusalem, undoubtedly placed his body in a posture concordant with its contents. He kneeled on his knees in front of the assembly of Israel and spread out his palms heavenward. The way he prayed conformed to his words. When the people saw him, even if they could not catch every word that he said, they were impressed by his attitude of abasement before Jehovah, his God, and by the outspread palms, which suggested to them the offering of his work to the Deity.

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KNEELING IN PRAYER

To kneel, brk in Hebrew, also means to bless. Abraham's servant, when he came to the city of Nahor, in Mesopotamia, caused his camels to ebrik, which may mean either cause to kneel or cause to bless. We have lost the significance of this act, but Israel was always reminded of it by their language. So the very attitude of prayer, as a rule, signified the first requirement, that there must be blessing in the heart of the petitioner. We seldom read of this in the Hebrew Scriptures. Psa.95:6, A.V. “Let us kneel before the Lord,” may be the only other occurrence, yet the word is rendered bless hundreds of times. In Chaldee, however, we have one other example. When Daniel knew that the decree was signed that forbade him to make any petition to God for thirty days, he went into his house, his windows being open toward Jerusalem, and he knelt on his knees three times a day (Dan.6: 10). Our Lord seemed to take it for granted that, if anyone fell on his knees to Him intuitively, that one was well disposed, and He, on His part, blessed him. The first occurrence in the Greek Scriptures is the man whose son was an epileptic (Matt.17:14). The second was when the soldiers of the governor mocked His kingly crown with a wreath of thorns (Matt.27:29; Mark 14:19). Besides, there was the leper, whom He cleansed (Mark 1:40), and Peter, after the miraculous multitude of fishes (Luke 5:8). Only the rich man did not receive a blessing from his kneeling. He wished to know what he should do in order to acquire eonian life. Doing is deadly, and does not lead to life, even when he seemed to come in the attitude of blessing. If he earned life by doing, why should he bless the Giver of life eonian?

Only once do we read of our Lord kneeling in prayer (Luke 22:41). This was the time when He approached nearest to us in our infirmities, and the ordeal before Him seemed insupportable. Then it was that he cried, “carry aside this cup from Me.” But, both before and after, He abased Himself by making all subject to the two great operative principles that must ever characterize the true Deity--—His intention and His will. Christ did not set Himself up as a rival Deity, with a purpose and a plan which is irrevocable. Rather, He took His place in acquiescence to the Father's intention and will. He bowed the knee to Him, and made no move to over-rule Him when their wills did not coincide. He is always subject, and will be even at the consummation, after He has brought back the universe to God, the Father’s, heart (1 Cor.15).

Twice we have kneeling associated with the Circumcision in Acts. First, we read of Stephen. When he was stoned he knelt and prayed for blessing on his assassins (Acts 7:60). Saul of Tarsus saw this. Peter knelt when he prayed and revived the body of Dorcas (Acts 9:40). This was followed by the housetop vision which led to the blessing of Cornelius.

Paul speaks of kneeling and blessing more than anyone else in the Scriptures. Twice we find him kneeling with the saints at the seashore, a type of the boundary between Israel and the nations. Why did he send to Ephesus for the elders instead of going there? Their spiritual position was the sea, so they had to come down to Miletus. Kneeling with them all he prayed. Later, they received all the blessings of the so-called Ephesian epistle. Again, when he was about to leave Tyre, they knelt on the beach, presaging the blessing of the nations.

Bowing the knee is a fine figure indicative of blessing, either as desired or as appreciated. We have lost its significance in the western world, and think of it as a token of reverence or submission. It will, of course, include these qualities, but submission, in the Scriptures, is more clearly and picturesquely shown by placing the foot or the hand on the scruff, the nape of the neck (Gen.49:8; 2 Sam.22:41). Reverence is really a far deeper emotion, and demands more than genuflexion. Abram fell on his face, when God spoke to him (Gen.17:3,17). Daniel even fell on his face before Gabriel. The prone position is the lowest that a mortal can take, and is specially fitting when in the presence of the Deity, for then the spirit is also prostrate. In my own experience, in the most agonizing of my prayers, I unwittingly bury my face and lie prostrate. Unless this is done naturally, from the heart, it is a mockery. But it may express the deepest reverence of which our spirits are capable.

On four occasions Paul uses the phrase “bow the knee.” Not realizing its proper import, most of us lose the full weight of these words, and make them a mere symbol of unwilling, forced surrender. That this is very far from its force may be seen when Paul uses it of himself (Eph.3:14). He bows his knees to his Father, asking for blessing for the saints. If Paul was compelled it must have been the compulsion of love, for his whole petition is replete with his desire for supernal blessing for the saints.

Bowing the knee to Baal was also done in order to receive blessing. Baal means possessor, and was used freely for a woman's husband (Gen.20:3) or owners of animals or houses or land. Those who bowed to Baal hoped to come into the blessings he possessed, instead of seeking them from the hand of Jehovah (Rom.11:4).

The two other occurrences in Paul's epistles have much in common. They look forward to the time when every knee shall bow, either to the Lord God (Rom.14:11) or in the name of Jesus, for it will be the name above every name, seeing that it presents Him as Jehovah the Saviour (Phil.2:10). In the future few things will so pitilessly expose the hardness of the human heart, as the orthodox perversion of these precious passages. Those who have already been blessed in Christ Jesus should exult to learn that, in the future, there will be bliss for all, not only for themselves. Above this, they should revel in the thought that God will not lose aught by the tragedy of the eons. Rather they are the needed background for that future bliss, which will enable all His creatures to enjoy the blessings which were stored in His heart from the beginning.

In contrast to the glorious, eternal Pauline evangel, we read of the paralyzed knees of those of the Circumcision who hoped for the coming of the kingdom (Heb.12:12). By basing blessing partly on themselves, their conduct and continuance, they forfeited the bliss that comes only from God, apart from human interference. May we never do this! May our knees never be paralyzed by building our bliss on our behaviour, rather than on the exclusive, unfathomable all-victorious grace of God!

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PRAISE AND PRAYER IN THE ECCLESIA

Our Lord told His disciples, “Where two or three are gathered into My Name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt.18:20). If that was true of them, how much more so of us, in each of whom God's spirit homes! This He said to them in reference to requests in which several are agreed. The members of the present ecclesia have much more in common than they had. Fellowship in praise and worship, especially in the recollection of the Lord's death, as well as mutual edification by teaching and exhortation is a very precious privilege none of those should forego who are vitally united by the same spirit. To join with others in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph.5:19; Col.3:16), making melody in our hearts, and voicing it with our tongues, is a form of worship which warms the heart of God and His Anointed.

One reason why the praise and prayer in our churches is so soulish or insincere is because the ecclesia as a whole, as evident in its local expressions, is so ignorant of the riches of His grace, and fails to appreciate the wealth of His favor. That is why, in these days, a teaching ministry should be encouraged. The prime object of such a service should not be an accumulation of facts, or mere knowledge, but such a revelation of God's grace and love as will bring the saints into constant fellowship with God in prayer and fill the hearts with overflowing praise for His grace. Teaching should bear fruit for God in worship and adoration.

As an ecclesia, we have unutterably more for which to praise and adore our Saviour and our God than Israel ever had or ever will have. The blessings of the Circumcision on the earth cannot compare with our spiritual blessings among the celestials. Our praise should far exceed theirs in its fervor and elevation. Let us give it full expression when we gather together. Let us not make the mistake of the Corinthians (1 Cor.11:20-22) of debasing the spiritual fellowship we should have as saints into a social gathering or a soulish feast, which may indeed give pleasure to our souls and feed our bodies, but is far beneath the spiritual bond which makes us one. These things are necessary, but should be kept in their proper place.

The place of meeting of an ecclesia or the posture of its members is of little consequence today. God probably gets more worship from a few handfuls in halls or homes than He receives from all the great congregations in our churches and cathedrals. And the broken utterance of a humble heart that feels free to stand before Him in Christ's worthiness is much more coveted by His heart than an oratorical invocation accompanied by deep genuflections and prostrations. Approach to God is not a matter of place or posture in this dispensation of spirit, when the outward and material is eclipsed by the inner essence. Place and posture play no part in our praise and prayer today, either alone or in the ecclesia, for God is spirit, and must be worshiped in spirit and in truth.

A. E. Knoch

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